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Tending Fire: Coping with America's Wildland Firesby Stephen Pyne
Synopses & Reviews
The wildfires that spread across Southern California in the fall of 2003 were devastating in their scale-twenty-two deaths, thousands of homes destroyed and many more threatened, hundreds of thousands of acres burned. What had gone wrong? And why, after years of discussion of fire policy, are some of America's most spectacular conflagrations arising now, and often not in a remote wilderness but close to large settlements?
That is the opening to a brilliant discussion of the politics of fire by one of the country's most knowledgeable writers on the subject, Stephen J. Pyne. Once a fire fighter himself (for fifteen seasons, on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon) and now a professor at Arizona State University, Pyne gives us for the first time a book-length discussion of fire policy, of how we have come to this pass, and where we might go from here.
Tending Fire provides a remarkably broad, sometimes startling context for understanding fire. Pyne traces the "ancient alliance"between fire and humanity, delves into the role of European expansion and the creation of fire-prone public lands, and then explores the effects wrought by changing policies of "letting burn"and suppression. How, the author asks, can we better protect ourselves against the fires we don't want, and better promote those we do?
Pyne calls for important reforms in wildfire management and makes a convincing plea for a more imaginative conception of fire, though always grounded in a vivid sense of fire's reality. "Amid the shouting and roar, a central fact remains,"he writes. "Fire isn't listening. It doesn't feel our pain. It doesn't care-really, really doesn't care. It understands a language of wind, drought, woods, grass, brush, and terrain, and it will ignore anything stated otherwise."
Rich in insight, wide-ranging in its subject, and clear-eyed in its proposals, Tending Fire is for anyone fascinated by fire, fire policy, or human culture.
Book News Annotation:
From experience with a "hotshot" crew fighting fires at Grand Canyon National Park over many seasons, Pyne (life sciences, Arizona State U.) situates US debates over let burn/controlled burn fire management policies for public lands in historical and ecological contexts. In a timely analysis as continuing drought in the West magnifies the problem, he proposes viewing fire more deeply as a phenomenon subject to biological controls rather than as a force to be subdued by physical means.
Annotation ©2004 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
"Tending Fire" offers a brilliant discussion of the politics of fire by one of the country's most knowledgeable writers on the subject. Pyne examines fire policy, and looks at how we have come to this pass, and where we might go from here.
About the Author
Stephen J. Pyne is a professor in the School of Life Sciences at Arizona State University. He is the author of many acclaimed books, including Year of the Fires (Viking, 2001), The Cycle of Fire series (University of Washington Press), and How the Canyon Became Grand (Penguin, 1999).
Table of Contents
Prologue: Seeing Meaning in the Flames
Chapter 1. Why Fire?
-An Imperial Narrative
-Rhythms and Reasons
Chapter 2. Torch and Shovel: The Means of Fire Management
-Option 1. Let Burn
-Option 2. Suppress
-Option 3. Prescribe Burn
-Option 4. Change Combustibility
-The Elements Compounded
Chapter 3. Sparks and Embers: Ideas in the Wind
-The Big Fire
-Firestop II and Firestart I
-Fire in the Mind
-Fire as Community
Chapter 4. Flash Points: Fire Scenarios for the Future
-The Fires This Time, and Next
-The Not-Quite Vestal Fire on the No-Longer Virgin Land
-The Big Burn
Epilogue: Imagining Fire
Appendix: Fire's American Century: By the Numbers
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History and Social Science » Americana » Fire Fighting